Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan

Tags: young adult, fantasy, short story collection


Yellowcake brings together ten short stories from the extraordinarily talented Margo Lanagan--each of them fiercely original and quietly heartbreaking.

The stories range from fantasy and fairy tale to horror and stark reality, and yet what pervades is the sense of humanity. The people of Lanagan's worlds face trials, temptations, and degradations. They swoon and suffer and even kill for love. In a dangerous world, they seek the solace and strength that comes from family and belonging.

These are stories to be savored slowly and pondered deeply because they cut to the very heart of who we are. [summary from Goodreads]


Quick—someone teach me how to review a short story collection. I’m afraid I didn’t take notes on individual stories as I read this, so just a few words on the collection as a whole.

The book’s afterword explains not only Lanagan’s inspiration for each of these stories, which I found interesting to read, but also that the majority of these stories have been previously published elsewhere. If you’ve been a dedicated YA short story anthology reader, particularly of the SFF kind, then you may have read some of these stories already. It’s probably a good idea to know this, in order to avoid buyer’s disappointment.

The best audience for YELLOWCAKE is devoted Lanagan fans, or readers who have read a book or two by her and are curious for more. I fall into the latter, perhaps moving into the former. Like her other books, the stories in YELLOWCAKE don’t seem like they should work, but they do. In each of them is a vague echo of something familiar: I felt like I had read the essence or the ideas of some of them before. But in Lanagan’s uniquely skillful hands, the ideas turn into phantasmal sights, old and new at the same time.

I’m not sure if there’s a connecting thread running through all these stories. Sometimes I felt like I could catch hold of a connection, but then the next story comes along and dashes my tentative theories into pieces. The best I can come up with is that this short story collection persuasively argues, in a peripheral, is-it-or-is-it-not kind of way, the importance of having a little more magic—however you define it—in our lives.

Cover discussion: In this age of movie-poster-clone book covers, this quiet and slightly mysterious one stands out.

Knopf / May 14, 2013 / Hardcover / 240pp. / $16.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.


  1. I am a huge Lanagan fan.

    Personally, for short story collections, I like to not note a few stories that worked the best for me and perhaps one or two that didn't.

    1. I usually try to do that when reviewing short story collections. But then sometimes I start reading too quickly, and before I realize it, several stories have gone by. :P

  2. "The best I can come up with is that this short story collection persuasively argues, in a peripheral, is-it-or-is-it-not kind of way, the importance of having a little more magic—however you define it—in our lives."

    Based on this sentence alone, I will probably be checking out this short story collection. I don't think I've ever read anything by Lanagan, but I'm mightily intrigued after seeing your thoughts on her writing.

    1. I think any Lanagan short story collection would be a good place to start with her works! Although I liked The Brides of Rollrock Island as well. Tender Morsels may be her most well-known/infamous work, I think, but it's also a tough one to swallow. I still need to return to it and try again sometime in the future.

  3. First time I've heard of this. Sounds interesting.

    Safari Poet

  4. My favourite Margo Lanagan book - "White time"

  5. I don't do many short stories, but this does sound good.


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